By Albert Akota
Captain Ahmed Musa and 20 other invited players were at the Super Eagles’ first training session in the city of Tangier on Tuesday as countdown began for Saturday’s FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 African qualifying encounter against the Lone Star of Liberia at the city’s main venue.
The Super Eagles had a gym session at the hotel in the morning and were scheduled to train in the evening at the Grand Stade de Tanger (also known as Stade Ibn Batouta), a 45,000 –capacity facility that was opened in April 2011 but which will, sadly, be empty when Nigeria and Liberia tackle each other for three precious points on Saturday.
‘Hosts’ Liberia have made no move to get the Confederation of African Football to approve crowd attendance at the Day 5 game.
As at lunchtime on Tuesday, only forwards Victor Osimhen and Odion Jude Ighalo, as well as newly –drafted goalkeeper John Noble, were being expected in the camp.
Nine-pointer Nigeria need all three points from the encounter with the Lone Star in order to stay in contention to star in the knockout phase of the World Cup qualifiers, set for March 2022.
Only the group winners will proceed to the knockout phase that will be a home-and-away exercise to produce Africa’s five flagbearers in Qatar.
Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks, who hosts Central African Republic in Mindelo on Saturday, have seven points and will be hoping the Super Eagles stumble in North Africa.
However, the Super Eagles have scaled the hurdle in their last three major qualifying campaigns with matches to spare, and are confident they could reach the knockout round before the final day of the qualifiers by beating Liberia, and hoping Cape Verde are unhinged on home soil by the Beasts.
Nigeria reached the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals with a match to spare; a feat repeated in the qualifying series for the 2019 AFCON. For the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon, the Super Eagles qualified with two matches to spare.
Meanwhile, the delegation of Liberia’s Lone Star also arrived in Tangier on Monday, and included three goalkeepers, seven defenders, seven midfielders and five forwards.
The Lone Star, bottom of Group C of the African series with three points, have a very remote chance of qualifying even though they play their final two matches at ‘home’ in Tangier, which is the venue they opted for as home ground after CAF ruled that there is no venue in the whole of Liberia fit and proper to host international matches.
Nigeria, the Lone Star’s opponents on Saturday and group leaders, already have nine points (the maximum that the Lone Star can amass in this campaign, if they win their last two matches).
But the Super Eagles have a home game against second –placed Cape Verde in Lagos on Tuesday next week.
After the session with the three –time African champions, the Lone Star will remain in Tangier for their final game of the campaign, against the Wild Beasts of Central African Republic, also on Tuesday next week.
Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks, with seven points, are at home to the Beasts on the island of Mindelo, hoping to garner another three points that could make the final Group C encounter with Nigeria in Lagos a cliff-hanger.
EAGLES FOR LONE STAR & BLUE SHARKS
Goalkeepers: John Noble (Enyimba FC); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
Defenders: Chidozie Awaziem (Alanyaspor FC, Turkey); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Kevin Akpoguma (TSG Hoffenheim, Germany)
Midfielders: Frank Onyeka (Brentford FC, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Galsgow Rangers, Scotland); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Odion Jude Ighalo (Al-Shabab Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
LONE STAR FOR SUPER EAGLES
Goalkeepers: Derrick Julu (Watanga FC); Tommy Songo’s (LISCR FC); Boison Wynney de Souza (FC Somesul Dej, Romania)
Defenders: Sampson Dweh (LPRC Oilers); Alvin Maccornel (Watanga FC); Ben Benaiah (LPRC Oilers); Carlos Williams (Watanga FC); Prince Balde (FC Drita, Kosovo); Jamal Arago (Sabail FK, Azerbaijan); Mark Pabai (PEC Zwolle, The Netherlands)
Midfielders: Abraham Soumaoro (Paeek FC, Cyprus); Seth Kanteh Hellberg (IK Barge, Sweden); Allen Njie (FC Aarau, Switzerland); Marcus Macaulay (Sahab FC, Jordan); Oscar Murphy Dorley (Slavia Prague, Czech Republic); Justin Salmon (Degerfors IF, Sweden); Abu Kamara (FC Makedonija, North Macedonia)
Forwards: Peter Wilson (Olympiakos Nicosia, Cyprus); Moussa Sanoh (CS Mioveni, Romania); Van-Dave Harmon (KF Laci, Albania); Kpah Sherman (Kedah FC, Malaysia); Sylvanus Nimley (Llves, Finland)